The adoption of the IHRA definition at universities has been opposed by a range of scholars, analysts and researchers. Here’s why
The definition impedes academic research and study.
Some of the illustrative examples attached to the poorly worded definition conflate criticism of Israel and Zionism with antisemitism. This has problematic implications for the rights of academics, researchers and students to study and disseminate information around the policies, practices, constitutional order, and structure of the State of Israel.
As a report by academics at UCL notes many of the definition’s examples encompass positions a number of scholars and researchers on the basis of the available historical record. For example, many scholars and analysts believe that “it was a mistake to create the State of Israel as an ethnocratic Jewish state in 1948″ or that “the legal framework of the State of Israel is or always has been intrinsically racist, in the sense that some citizens of the country (the Jewish ones) are legally privileged above other citizens (the non-Jewish ones).”
This makes scenarios in which an educator is investigated under the IHRA definition for expressing views that criticise the actions, policies, and practices of the Israeli state likely.
This view is shared by the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies (BRISMES), who have concluded that the definition “will have a detrimental impact on researchers and students.”
This creates a potent chilling effect.
Blurring the distinction between antisemitism and legitimate views has a potent chilling effect, in which academics, researchers, and students refrain from studying and writing about Israel and Palestine to avoid potential investigation, scrutiny, or sanctions.
If researchers are refraining from studying and writing about the area, this has consequences for the ability of the historical record of Palestinian dispossession to be brought into the public domain.
Over 600 Canadian academics have agreed, signing an open letter stating that the adoption of the definition would create a ““chilly climate” in relation to forms of teaching, research and activism on Israel and Palestine.”
The definition has been used to restrict events critical of Israel
Moreover, key proponents of the definition recognise it as a tool to suppress criticism of Israel. For example, as journalist Ben White has noted, Mark Weitzman, director of government affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Centre has openly welcomed its use in efforts to sabotage Israeli Apartheid Week events on university campuses. In a 2018 interview, Weitzman specifically cited the cancellation of one such event the previous year as an example of the “practical applications of the IHRA definition”.
Eric Pickles, the UK government’s Special Envoy for post-Holocaust issues, and head of the UK delegation to the IHRA, said “those who object to it [the definition] want to…be able to suggest that Israel is an apartheid state.”
In August 2021, pro-Israel groups used the IHRA definition to lobby for the removal of a statement of solidarity with Palestine from an exhibition hosted by the Whitworth Gallery, curated by Forensic Architecture, a Turner prize-nominated investigative group of architects, archaeologists and journalists. The ‘Cloud Studies’ exhibition looked at how pollution, chemical attacks, and the aftermath of explosions affect marginalised people across the globe.
If you want to start a campaign at your university, please consult our Toolkit for advice on what to do in concrete situations.